It’s no great mystery that artistic breakthroughs often come as the result of great turmoil. Both Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and the Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers’ Lane were recorded as romantic relationships within the bands were unraveling. Method Man’s Tical had to be almost completely re-recorded when a studio flood destroyed the original tracks. The French duo Essaie Pas were inspired to begin work on their debut, Demain est une autre nuit, when, on the eve of a two-month tour, they were simultaneously evicted from both their rehearsal space and their apartment.
“Basically, we had been living at night,” explains Marie Davidson, who shares vocal and production duties in Essaie Pas with Pierre Guerineau. “The neighbors were complaining—not because we were playing music, but because they’d hear us come home late and then use our kitchen to make food. They said we were unwanted there because we had a lifestyle that didn’t correspond with the rest of the building.”
“It was one neighbor in particular, and she got a little obsessed,” Guerineau laughs. Davidson agrees, “It was crazy. She told us that she would mark her calendar every time she heard a noise.” At the same time, the duo were also being thrown out of their rehearsal space, the pioneering Montreal DIY space La Brique, where artists like Grimes and Dirty Beaches also cut their teeth. “The rent for the building was increasing, so we had to throw more and more parties to keep up,” explains Davidson. “That was bad, because more parties brings in more bad people. At some point during one of the parties, some idiot pulled the fire alarm. The landlord was so pissed off at us, because we’d built up a whole history of incidents like this, so she threw us out.”
The duo eventually found a new apartment and relocated their rehearsal space to an office building where they can practice in peace during nights and weekends, after the workers go home. “We feel a bit like ghosts, or vampires,” says Guerineau. Davidson agrees, adding, “When we come in, we see all the people leaving their offices. Then, after 10:00, there’s nobody—just us and the security people.”
The image of two people making music alone, after hours, in a towering, shadowy, deserted office building, is appropriate for Autre Nuit, an album that evokes the kind of ominous, green-laser synths found on ’70s horror soundtracks as much as it does classic minimal wave bands like The Normal and Cabaret Voltaire. On the severe “Lights Out,” eerie, snakelike synth lines whip their way through a flat, agitated rhythm track. “La port du masque est de rigeur” is tense and pulsing, Guerineau’s affectless voice sounding like the dispassionate protagonist of some old Godard film who decided to ditch detective work to front a new wave band. And “Retox,” which opens with a white-hot, siren-like shriek, gradually settles into a grim, hypnotic groove, Guerineau repeating, “Detox. Retox. Detox. Retox” sternly, again and again, draining the words of their meaning. This isn’t accidental. “The vocals are basically used as another instrument,” Davidson says. “It’s rhythmic. It’s tone. The lyrics have meaning, and we put time into thinking about what we were going to say, but in the end what matters most is how it sounds with the other parts of the song.”
The album’s title, which in English means “Tomorrow is Another Night,” is a celebration of the same nocturnal lifestyle that got Guerineau and Davidson thrown out of their apartment building. “There was a night we were going to bed after a party, and we were talking about stuff we had to do, and we said, ‘We’ll do it tomorrow.’ And then we were like, ‘Ha, ha, tomorrow,’ because we looked out the window, and the sun was already coming up.”
It’s also not especially surprising that two people who do most of their living after the sun goes down are also big fans of Charles Bukowski. “I went through a three- or four-year depression,” says Davidson, “and at some point Pierre said, ‘You should read Bukowski, I think you’re going to like him.’ And he was right. Bukowski became my friend. When I’d feel really down or anxious, that was the thing I would go for. It’s very cathartic. There’s just something in his writing that is soothing. It’s dark, but it’s also light.” It was Bukowski—or, more specifically, Bukowski’s gravestone—that gave the group their name. “‘Essaie Pas’ is Bukowski’s epitaph,” Davidson explains. “It means ‘Don’t try.’ And not in a negative way. It’s more like: don’t try—just do. Pierre and I were both very contemplative. We had a lot of barriers and fears. But through the process of this band, we started doing. And once you’re doing, you’re in motion. And when you’re in motion, you go further, and you change.”